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2021 Infiniti QX50 Test Drive Review
With accessible entry-level pricing and a healthy dose of standard driver-assistance features, the Infiniti QX50 offers a strong value proposition.
The Infiniti QX50 was redesigned for the 2019 model year, introducing a fresh new look and a cutting-edge variable-compression turbocharged (VC-Turbo) engine. Safety improvements followed in 2020, and the 2021 model year sees even more changes.
Among the highlights are more safety equipment throughout the trim level lineup, a standard WiFi hotspot, and increased availability of the automaker's ProPilot Assist suite of driver-assistance features.
Look and Feel
In a crowded and competitive luxury compact crossover segment, it's essential to stand out, either from a design or engineering standpoint (preferably, both). It's undeniable that the Infiniti QX50 stands out from an engineering perspective, thanks to its VC-Turbo engine, and its design, admittedly subjective in terms of good or bad, is distinctive as well.
One of the first things you notice about the QX50 is its large honeycomb grille, which to some might be a bit too wide and tall, but we think it works. It is distinctive without being obnoxious. Sitting atop the grille is a curved hood that features athletic-looking bulges on the sides, which gives an impression of sportiness. That feeling of sportiness is even more pronounced from the driver's seat, as the forward view is reminiscent of a sports car with a low-slung hood and tall fenders.
Toward the rear of the vehicle, aft of the C-pillar, is another distinctive exterior design element—a crooked chrome strip reminiscent of a lightning bolt. It's completely unnecessary, of course, but it gives the QX50 character and mimics other models within Infiniti's lineup.
Our test vehicle had a huge panoramic moonroof that stretched from the front row to the cargo area. When open, it not only brightened the cabin and made it feel airy but offered magnificent views of the sky, especially at night.
Though we generally liked the look and feel of the QX50, there were a couple of things related to outward visibility upon which Infiniti can improve. Thick B-pillars made it somewhat difficult to see traffic or other objects to the side, and the rear window opening is a tad short, making it a bit of a challenge to see what was behind the vehicle. Aside from those two minor niggles, we have no complaints about the QX50's aesthetics.
Our Sensory AWD test vehicle came equipped with attractive 20-inch silver-painted machine finish alloy wheels and all-season run-flat tires.
Inside, the QX50 has an attractive cabin with nicely textured soft-touch materials, including aluminum interior trim accents and a leather-wrapped, heated steering wheel. The front seats offered heating and cooling, which came in handy on both a cool, late-evening return trip from the lake as well as when outside temperatures were in the mid-90s.
For the most part, interior controls were easy to use and where we expected them to be. We appreciated the presence of actual knobs and buttons for adjusting the radio and climate control settings. Also, while many automakers are transitioning away from a traditional gear shift lever and toward push buttons, we're still getting used to pressing a button to "shift" into Park rather than simply rowing the gear shifter to the forward-most position. However, all other gears were still controlled by a traditional, if vertically challenged, gear selector. It begs the question: Why not commit one way or the other?
While other entries in the luxury compact crossover segment offer a modicum of choice, Infiniti offers just one powertrain combination across the entire 2021 QX50 lineup. The standard (and only) powertrain is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with paddle shifters and downshift rev-matching. Output measures 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. While there's nothing about any of those specs to get particularly excited about, how the engine operates is unique.
As mentioned earlier, the QX50 features Infiniti's VC-Turbo engine. First introduced on the redesigned 2019 QX50 model (along with the 2019 Nissan Altima), this unique engine aims to offer the best of both worlds—power and efficiency—by constantly adjusting the compression ratio. Essentially, the system adjusts the vertical position of the piston stroke within the cylinder, changing the compression ratio. High compression equals higher efficiency, and low compression equals more power.
Is it cool engine tech? Certainly. Will the average buyer care about or even fully understand it? Probably not. The bottom line for most buyers in the segment is whether the engine operation is smooth and quiet. In our experience, it is, though not everyone may agree.
Technical wizardry aside, an engine is only as good as the transmission to which it is married. In the case of the QX50, we're pleased to report that the marriage is happy, if not perfectly harmonious (a steady dose of counseling over the years has undoubtedly helped). After all, CVTs have a well-earned reputation for droning and being a bit unrefined, not to mention they are expensive and challenging to work on. However, a couple of decades of constant fine-tuning have things pretty well sorted out.
Nowadays, many CVTs even have simulated shift points engineered into them to provide a more familiar sensory experience when climbing the RPM ladder. Most people know the "shifts" are artificial, but drivers have become so accustomed to the noises elicited by a conventional automatic transmission that they feel unsettled when they're not present. Baby steps, we suppose.
Front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard on the QX50; all-wheel drive (AWD) is a $2,000 option for all but the top Autograph trim level, where it's an extra $2,650. Our test model had Infiniti's "intelligent" AWD, but like most luxury compact crossovers, the most off-roading the QX50 saw during our evaluation period was the occasional gravel driveway. However, it was reassuring to know that we had AWD while on a rainy, 360-mile, construction-zone-laden Interstate drive from Nashville to Southern Illinois with many uneven and even slippery surfaces. During our time with the vehicle, the QX50 was always composed and never unsettled.
Our QX50 was also equipped with a drive mode selector, which adjusts engine torque output, transmission shift points, steering ratios, and steering effort. Four modes are available: Standard, Sport, Eco, and Personal. Naturally, our favorite is Sport mode, which dials up shift points and overall responsiveness. Sport mode certainly lives up to its name, as steering effort increases and acceleration is brisk. Conversely, acceleration in Eco mode is downright sluggish. We recommend using it only for long-distance runs on Interstate highways and not for around-town driving. Yes, you will conserve fuel in Eco mode due to the associated reductions in engine power. Still, the painfully slow acceleration and general feel of inadequate power aren't worth it, in our opinion.
Form and Function
Although it's considered a compact vehicle, the QX50 feels quite spacious inside. There's plenty of hip and shoulder room in both the front and rear seats, and headroom is plentiful—even with the panoramic moonroof. In many vehicles, the moonroof shaves precious inches from available headspace. Not so in the QX50.
The legroom is plentiful as well. Rear-seat passengers have a vast 38.7 inches of legroom, enough to allow all but the tallest passengers to cross their legs. One handy feature is the QX50's sliding second-row seats, enabling owners to maximize either rear-seat legroom or cargo space.
Even more so than the interior, the cargo area is particularly accommodating. There are 31.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats in vehicles equipped with the panoramic moonroof. With rear seats folded, space expands to 64.4 cubic feet. In QX50s without the moonroof, those figures increase incrementally to 31.4 and 65.1 cubic feet, respectively.
Our test vehicle came equipped with the optional Cargo package ($285), which includes a reversible cargo area protector, cargo blocks, and nets for both console and cargo. It came in handy when transporting groceries and lake toys alike.
The QX50 also checks all the boxes in terms of cupholders, storage bins, and charging options, including USB connection ports as well as a 12-volt charging port.
One of the most critical aspects of any new vehicle is its technology. As any automaker that has failed in this regard will attest, get the tech wrong and your customer base will disappear faster than a Pabst Blue Ribbon at a NASCAR race. All it takes is one major technology glitch to completely ruin a new-model launch and, in extreme cases, your entire brand's reputation.
Nowadays, the price of entry in the luxury new-car market is standard Bluetooth hands-free smartphone compatibility, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and, at minimum, an up-level 10-speaker audio system. If you want to play it safe, include a user-friendly infotainment system with at least a 7-inch touchscreen and a WiFi hotspot as standard.
Standard on Essential and higher trim levels of the 2021 QX50 is Infiniti's InTouch infotainment system with dual vehicle information display screens—an 8-inch upper LCD/VGA and 7-inch lower color unit. It features voice recognition and Infiniti InTouch Services—a suite of connected services including navigation, entertainment and communications, convenience and concierge, and safety and security features.
Pairing a smartphone with the QX50's infotainment system via Bluetooth was a breeze, and Apple CarPlay integration worked seamlessly with no glitches or delays, as are common with this particular technology. The 16-speaker Bose Performance Series premium audio system delivered crisp, powerful audio and was great for blasting Hair Nation, Channel 39 on the standard SiriusXM satellite radio dial. Vince Neil only wishes he still sounded that good.
As is the case with many other car brand's navigation systems, using the native Maps app via CarPlay was far easier than dealing with the Infiniti Controller and somewhat obtuse built-in vehicle navigation system. Perhaps spending more time with the built-in system would aid in ease of use, but for plug and play and a quick start to your trip, it's hard to beat CarPlay.
Our test vehicle also came with Infiniti's Around View Monitor with front and rear sonar system and moving-object detection, making it less stressful when pulling into or out of a tight parking space or garage.
In addition to all of the tech features discussed above, the 2021 Infiniti QX50 comes with ProPilot Assist on all but the base Pure trim level. ProPilot Assist, an advanced driving assistance system that combines adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and lane-centering assistance, is designed to assist, rather than replace, the driver. We used this system extensively on our long trip and, while you still need to pay attention to what's going on around you, ProPilot Assist clearly works and provides a glimpse of the autonomous driving future.
A strong point for the Infiniti QX50 is its level of standard safety equipment. Standard safety features across the board include blind-spot warning, predictive forward-collision warning and forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, rear automatic braking, automatic collision notification, emergency call, rearview monitor, hill-start assist, and high-beam assist. The QX50 also comes with an Easy-fill tire alert, which sounds the horn when the tires are at the proper inflation level. Also standard on all but the base Pure trim level are lane-departure prevention and blind-spot intervention. Traffic sign recognition is standard on Essential and higher trim levels.
During our week with the Infiniti QX50, there were no surprises with any of the safety-related tech. No false warnings, only a gentle nudge here and there when the system detected a possible problem. Granted, the repeated lane-departure warnings in construction zones were a bit tiresome, but give credit to the system for doing its job. We resisted the urge to come up quickly on an unsuspecting jaywalker to test the forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection system. We'll have to take Infiniti's word on that one.
While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not tested it for crashworthiness, it did give the 2021 Infiniti QX50 four out of five stars for rollover resistance. Also, the structurally similar 2020 model received the highest five-star ratings for overall, front, and side crash protection.
Meanwhile, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the QX50 Good ratings for both moderate overlap front and side crash protection. The IIHS also gave the QX50 the highest-possible Superior rating for vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention.
With a starting price just north of $39,000, including the $1,025 destination charge, the 2021 Infiniti QX50 is a relative bargain among luxury compact crossovers, at least in the lower trim levels. Among the QX50's main competitors, including the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Lexus NX, and Mercedes-Benz GLC, only the Lexus has a lower base price—and not by much. But when you factor in the QX50's standard safety equipment and its state-of-the-art VC-Turbo engine, the Infiniti shines even brighter.
As with any other new car model, as you ascend the trim-level ladder and prices go up, the value proposition begins to disappear. While a mere $39,075 gets you into the entry-level QX50 Pure, each successive trim level adds several thousand dollars.
Stepping up to Luxe trim ($42,625) nets you a huge panoramic moonroof, roof rails, LED fog lights, heated front seats, remote start, and ProPilot Assist.
Essential trim ($45,825) adds heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, and several tech features, including front parking sensors, road sign recognition, navigation, and a 360-degree surround-view camera system.
Sensory trim ($51,125) includes 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive headlights, reverse-tilting side mirrors, a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, a head-up display, and Bose audio with 16 speakers.
Top-of-the-line Autograph trim ($55,325) brings with it several comfort and convenience features, including tri-zone climate control, heated/ventilated front seats, a power hands-free liftgate, ambient cabin lighting, direct adaptive steering, rear sunshades, and semi-aniline leather seating.
Optional packages include the Convenience package ($1,650), the Climate package (no-cost option on Sensory), and the Premium White Leather package ($2,000), which is only available on the Autograph. Also available is the new-for-2021 Appearance package ($1,200), which includes 20-inch black-alloy finish wheels; black outside mirror caps and grille mesh; dark chrome front grille surround, front fender accents, and tailgate finisher; body-color rear diffuser; and a graphite headliner.
All-wheel drive costs an additional $2,000-$2,650, depending on trim. Demonstrating how quickly things can escalate, add AWD and the optional white leather seats to the top-level Autograph trim, and you have exceeded the $60,000 threshold. Our recommendation would be the Sensory trim, which offers a nice blend of comfort and technology features for around $50,000.
At 22 mpg city/28 highway/25 combined, EPA fuel economy for the QX50 is on par with other models in its segment.
What's your take on the 2021 INFINITI QX50?
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